The Kiev Gym

At CNN's website there's a very cool collection of photos by Krill Golovchenko of an outdoor public gym in Kiev, Ukraine. It was built in the early 1970's. As you'll see, it's pretty crude because it was built with scrap metal, chains, ropes and old tires.

But you'll notice that this gym produces the same physical challenges and muscle definition you'd find in any fancy gym in America.

You also can't help but notice that these people are focused on their exercise, not their outfits. No spandex and $120 workout shoes. The man below swinging a sledge hammer has sandals on. His muscles don't care.

This gym is open at no charge to the public. People of all shapes, sizes and ages use it.

This photo collection demonstrates how basic fitness really doesn't require very much when people have the desire.

And it begs the question that in a rich country like ours with a runaway epidemic of heart disease and obesity, why isn't there one of these in every city in America?

Join the Resistance

The more I study and learn about TOJs and aging (50 years of age and up), the more I realize the importance of resistance exercise. While running, biking, walking, and all the other aerobic activities are good for your heart, nothing matches resistance for total body fitness. Period.

Resistance is the also the foundation for balance, agility and even flexibility. Resistance exercise gives you better body composition, i.e., more muscle, less fat, and raises your resting metabolic rate. And the research shows that it also has huge cardio benefits, especially when done at high intensity.

Resistance means just what it sounds like - working against the force of gravity, a material with resistive properties like rubber tubing, or even against something immovable like a brick wall. Resistance enlivens skeletal muscle.

There are three qualities you want to train into your muscles, all worthy of some of your time: strength, endurance and power. You should work on these 2-3 days per week. You can mix some of each into every workout or focus on one in each in three week cycles.

Strength is developed by doing exercises that require you lift, push or pull a resistance or weight you can only do 4-12 times. Do a couple sets of 8-10 exercises for both the upper and lower body. Pause 2-3 minutes between exercises to allow the energy system in the muscle cell to replenish.

Endurance is developed by almost identical exercises, but the resistance or weight is light enough that you can do 15-20 repetitions. Do a couple of sets of 8-10 exercises for the upper and lower body. Pause 1 minute between exercises.

Finally, power is developed by choosing a resistance or weight between the amount used for strength and endurance that you can do 10-15 times, only you will do the pushing/lifting movement very quickly, then slowly lower the load. Do a couple of sets of 8-10 exercises divided between the upper and lower body. Pause 30 seconds between exercises.

You can do resistance with body weight, bands, tubes, or weights on machines or dumbbells and barbells. I like all of them to keep workouts interesting and constantly challenging different muscles.

Each resistance device has some advantages. Bands are very effective strengthening smaller stabilizing muscles, like the rotator cuff and hip abductors. Machines are excellent, especially for TOJs who are not experienced with barbells, for serious strength training. Although machines limit the range of motion, they are safer for working with high weight loads. Both barbells and dumbbells allow much more dynamic, multi-planar movement and thus mobilize more muscles than any machine.

Most TOJs can develop all the strength they need by lifting their body weight with a full range of calisthenics, on TRX type strap devices, and doing pull ups on door or wall mounted bars. However, many TOJs like to push their limits, thus will find them faster by using weights in some form.

The strength you're looking for isn't in bulging pec muscles you see in the mirror. That's kid's stuff. It's about being able to effectively navigate and manipulate your environment. To move, lift, push or pull something without injury. To be able to move with speed, when needed. To keep the body lean and toned. To keep up with the requirements of daily life.

In your spare time, you can rest, work on balance and flexibility, for just go for walks and smell the roses.

Out to Pasture

For the first time in many, many years, this TOJ won't be joining a wave for the Bolder-Boulder, the coolest 10K race there is. It's not because of an injury. Or the fact that I now reside in Oregon.

It's more basic than that. My long endurance runs are fewer and fewer. Over the past forty years, I've logged thousands of miles, much of it on trail runs in beautiful mountains. I've enjoyed the adventures, like my encounter with three mountain lions, and always felt a discernible runner's high afterwards.

Just yesterday I went on a run along the Deschutes River. It felt great to be outside, though it was a little warm. I felt a great sense of satisfaction churning up the dust. But a few hours later, I noticed something. My hips and knees were sore. That's nothing new because both knees have been scoped and my legs have always felt sore the next day. 

However, I've been busy learning other types of exercise the past couple of years. During that time of not pounding my legs almost every day, I've discovered how good and strong they can feel. The post-runnning soreness is not due to bad shoes or difficult terrain. It's the collective toll of the repetitive motion of running for decades.  

This TOJ's brain, which loves those running endorphins, says it's time to let my distance running legs out to pasture. They're tired of slow plodding through spectacular scenery. The slow twitch Type 1 leg muscles used in running will only get a spin, maybe once a week.

 Entering their sixties, TOJs become prime candidates for osteoarthritis in places like the hips and knees due to overuse. A few blogs ago I mentioned a book by Lee Bergquist entitled Second Wind: The Rise of the Ageless Athlete, a collection of inspiring stories of athletes who are continuing to compete into their old age. But there was also a consistent, discouraging pattern to most of them - they suffered from painful, sometimes debilitating, overuse injuries, e.g., swimmers with shoulder problems, weightlifters with back problems, bikers with knee problems, etc.

In my ACE training, the experts divided physical capacities into two groups. The first was those that are health related, including aerobic capacity, muscular endurance, muscular strength, flexibility and body composition. 

The other group are skill related - power, speed, balance, agility, coordination and reactivity. I believe these are much, much more imporant to develop at this stage of life. I've got enough aerobic and muscular endurance, maintained by high intensity exercises that are short and sweet. I spend more time with weights, bands, stability balls, ladders, jump ropes and Bosu balls.

The legs still get plenty of work. The fast twitch Type 2 fibers in my legs are coming back to life. They can still jump, sprint and hop. They feel ageless.

From the Ground Up

In all the exercise focus on heart health, other parts of the body are largely forgotten. True, if your heart stops for very long, you're dead. But if your ankles and feet don't function well, you might as well be dead because you're going to be limited in what you can do and lose your independence much earlier.

Most TOJs are a little ahead of their sedentary peers, but depending on the type and frequency of the exercise they do, their lead might not be as large you might think. Hours running or riding a bike or hitting the weight room don't guarantee strong, responsive ankles and feet. What good is a super strong heart in a rickety body?

Remember that all your physical power starts from the ground up with the action of your feet and ankles. They propel you forward, keep you level, and help protect from shocks, like when you recover from tripping on a rock instead of falling.  

If you've survived to TOJ-dom, through all those years the 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 muscles in each foot/ankle have done their job. You might have some old damage, but you're still pretty mobile.  However, around age 50, the muscles, ligaments, and tendons inevitably start to lose some of their youthful elasticity. You see downward progression when you see frail people take flat footed baby steps and shuffle their feet to turn around. The end point of this progression is loss of balance and falls.

To maintain mobility, you must train to strengthen the weakest links, and as you age you can't take any of your links for granted. A shortcoming with TOJs is we can be set in our ways and do only the exercises we prefer and avoid those we could use, but may not enjoy that much - like those specifically for the feet and ankles. But the more I learn about aging, I realize how important it is to work on your whole body, including your ankles and feet.

Here are some excellent ankle and foot exercises to incorporate a couple times a week into your exercise routine.  

When you're just hanging around your house chatting or watching TV, take your shoes off and slowly rock back and forth up onto your toes then back onto your heels. With your feet directly beneath you a few inches apart, circle your knees so you roll onto the outside and inside edges of your feet. When you get proficient at this, do it on an unstable surface like a pillow or piece of foam rubber.

Do some very light jumps and short hops where you spring off your toes and gently come down on your full foot. When you get proficient at this, jump and hop a little higher and further and faster.

Just balance on one foot for 30 seconds, then the other. Repeat. Progress to 45 seconds, then 1 minute.

Balance, strength and power come from the ground up.